My Summer So Far

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Saying goodbye to Haiti at the Cap-Haitien airport.

The Fourth of July usually marks the midway point of my summer break from Haiti, which began on May 25 and will end on August 25. It is difficult to believe that the summer is already halfway over. This past year was a very busy one. I held down three jobs (one at the Bible college, one at the English-language Christian high school where I also teach, and one as a freelance translator), which led to fatigue at certain points of the year. In addition to this, my parents flew out about a month before I did, making the last few weeks especially lonely. Add in the sweltering heat and I was more ready than usual this year to be flying home.

One thing missionaries to Haiti quickly realize is that while Haiti is a very poor country, it is not cheap. I had been flying American Airlines since 2014, when they first started flying into Cap-Haitien. This year, however, I found that their prices had ballooned from $400 to over $700 for a roundtrip ticket. After doing a little research, I realized that due to the quirks of airfare route pricing, it would actually be a little cheaper to fly to California (my brother had invited me to visit him and his friends in San Diego) and then on to North Carolina. After my first flight landed in Atlanta, I had a minute of minor culture shock when I went to Subway and the girl behind the counter handed me a stack of paper napkins (not 1 or 2 napkins, but a STACK!) without my even having to ask. In Haiti, where resources are almost always limited, I would have had to ask and I would have received exactly one napkin.

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“Potato Chip Rock” near San Diego

In San Diego, I spent a few days with my brother and his friends, exploring the city and eating some of the best Mexican food I’ve ever had in my life (one of my brother’s friends was a local and knew all the best places to go). After they flew back to Portland, I stayed with Pastor Steve Fitzpatrick, who often comes to visit us in Haiti and was gracious enough to host me at his beautiful home in the foothills. His home was close to the desert and on one day, I drove down there and hiked up into a palm oasis in the canyon (alone in 100-degree weather, which is not advisable but makes for a good story). I also got to explore the Salton Sea. On another day, Pastor Steve and I drove across the border into Mexico, which was also a unique experience.

After six days in San Diego, I packed my bags and drove north to Los Angeles, where I got to attend the wedding of one of my friends from my first year of Bible college. It was encouraging for me (still single at 32) to see my friend, who is over 40 years old, marry the love of his life. He cried a little as his bride walked down the aisle. She couldn’t have married a nicer guy.

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I traveled all the way to Santa Barbara and met a guy from Cap-Haitien!

After two nights in L.A., I spent the last night in Santa Barbara, about two hours up the coast where I connected with Jon, another friend from my Bible college days, who introduced me to a Haitian brother (GĂ©rald, or G, as he goes by in the U.S.) in his church. G, a professional photographer, was from the same city (Cap-Haitien) as me and was a very gracious host. He gave me a book of photos he had taken on his last visit to Haiti. He will be joining us in January (Lord willing) and giving his time to the Lord by volunteering as a photographer/videographer in our ministry. It is amazing to see the connections the Lord weaves together for us.

After flying back to North Carolina, I moved into my aunt’s house for the summer. She is in Germany for the summer but has been kind enough to let my parents and I crash here until we go back to Haiti. Shortly after returning, my mother learned that she has breast cancer. The diagnosis came as a shock and it shook all of us a little bit. We prayed earnestly that it would not be too serious and it looks like it will be an easy fix. She will still have to undergo some radiation after her procedure, however, and it remains to be seen what the side effects will be. Needless to say, we would appreciate prayers for a smooth operation and speedy recovery.

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This book scanner at UNC-Wilmington got heavy use from me.

Since returning to North Carolina, I have been spending most of my time scanning, editing, and formatting e-books for the Bible college. The school stopped printing books last year, so for the second summer in a row, I have brought back all the textbooks for the coming year to scan. It is tedious work but this is the last year I will have to do it since by the end of the summer, textbooks for all four years will have been scanned – a major accomplishment!

This past week, I took a break from the tedium of scanning in order to spend a week at the beach on Topsail Island with my family. My brother flew in from Portland and my sister drove down from West Virginia with her rambunctious 3-year-old, Sam and we met at a beach cottage a friend of ours let us stay in for free for the week.

Both of my siblings have now gone home and I’m back from the beach, a little tanner (but not much – my family is Scots-Irish, which I’m pretty sure is one short step away from being a vampire). I have one more major trip to look forward to this summer. I’ll be heading to Montreal from August 10-14 to preach at a supporting church and give a presentation about our ministry. I am excited since it will be my first visit to Quebec and the first time that I have ever preached in French (although I’ve preached in Creole many times).

In the meantime, I’ll be putting my nose to the grindstone to get the rest of the books ready before heading home on August 25. If you’d like to connect with me, drop me a line in the comments and I’ll give you my e-mail and phone number. I’d love to hear from you.

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“God Is Going to Use My Life”: A Friend’s Story

There are some people whom you just connect with instantly. For me, Gary was one of those people. I first met him when his family rented a little apartment on our church property when I was about 12 years old. He and his little brother used to play me and my little brother in furious soccer games before church services in the evening, using a tennis ball and two little rocks on either end of the unfinished building next door as our goals. Gary would “announce” the games in radio Creole as we played, which entertained me when I was winning and infuriated me when I was not. (Since Gary was better than me, I was infuriated more often than not.)

After a few months of getting established in the city, Gary and his family moved down the street to where the radio antennae stood in the swampland near the oceanside. I would go down there before church to shoot the breeze and hang out with Gary. Even though his family only owned a one-room concrete structure close enough to an antenna to hear the buzz of the electrical transponder, his mother always treated me like an honored guest when I came over. 

“Do you want to sit down?” she would ask, dusting a brightly colored plastic chair free of imaginary dust as she pushed it toward me. “Do you want anything to eat?” 

I would always decline both, marveling secretly at how much more hospitable poor people seem to be than anyone else. Gary and I would then launch into a conversation about the news or a recitation of soccer or NBA scores or (our favorite) trying to stump one another with knowledge of world capitals. Gary was always a sharp kid and good at school and his knowledge of capitals was second to none. He usually beat me at that game, too.

Living in Haiti confronts you regularly with enormous inequalities, which can be overwhelming for a kid to process. My parents bought me clothes firsthand from the store in town. Gary wore the same shirt to church every service. My schoolbooks came shrink-wrapped from a warehouse in the U.S. Gary’s mom bought his secondhand at the open-air market downtown. My house leaked when it rained, but we just put a bucket underneath the leak and crawled off to bed under blankets. When it rained in Gary’s neighborhood, no one got to sleep for days. A common memory of my childhood is people showing up to church with their pants rolled up to their knees after walking for miles in streets shin-deep in rainwater. They almost never complained. On one occasion, I can recall being struck with the sheer unfairness of the world one day while talking things through with my mother and bursting into tears.

“How can the world be like this?” I lamented. “How can some people have so much and others have absolutely nothing? It just doesn’t make any sense!” (It still doesn’t.)

When I turned 18, I got to do something most of my friends only dreamed of doing: I left. I got on an airplane, landed two and a half hours later at an airport in Florida. Customs agents in navy blue scowled at the relevant documents for a few minutes and placed an official stamp on a page inside my passport. A few minutes later, through no accomplishment of my own, I was welcomed into the United States. By sheer of accident of birth, I could choose to live here for the rest of my life if I wished. 

I went on to Oregon, where I attended college. Way came to way and Gary and I lost touch as I went through college until three years ago, just before the earthquake, when I was down in Haiti over Christmas break. A pastor from Washington state with a prophetic gift was preaching in our church one Sunday evening. I can’t describe to you the feeling I got as I reconnected with Gary before the service. There was just a sense that things were about to come into alignment in some way, an electricity in the air and a sense that God was about to move. When the pastor finished his sermon, it didn’t surprise me in the least that he fixed his eyes upon Gary and called him up front. He laid his hands upon Gary’s head and prophesied in moving words that the Lord had seen him and was going to use him in a mighty way. I don’t remember the specifics of what he said. I do remember that Gary was visibly moved as the service ended. 

“God is going to use my life,” he said. “God is going to use me.”

Gary started Bible school this year and I had the tremendous privilege of assisting with what he needed to get started. I wrote him recently and told him how proud I was of him. He wrote back quickly, in perfect English: “So proud of you too bro! We’ll never stop working as we can, for the kingdom of God.” People like Gary are a major part of the reason I have chosen to move back. I have been tremendously blessed, and I believe that I have been blessed to be a blessing. I suspect, however, that in the end, I will end up being blessed just as much, if not more, by the faith of people overcoming tremendous odds out of love for Christ.